Caramel colouring for food, soda and bitters.

Dark Caramel Syrup

One of the great things about mixology is the infinite number of ingredients to work with. One flavour that has been a favourite is caramel or burnt sugar. This ingredient provides a number of benefits to any cocktail, including colour, mouthfeel/texture and most importantly flavour! I have created a simple recipe that is great to use in cocktails. The key to a good caramel syrup, for cocktail use, is avoiding using any fats like butter or cream. Most recipes for caramel sauce use one or the other and sometimes both. In a cocktail, this will create a murky looking drink that’s doesn’t look good. The recipe is straightforward, but a few things should be mentioned prior to embarking on the preparation. The first thing to note is that molting sugar is the equivalent of culinary napalm. The temperature we will be working with is around 150°C (or 320°F), so work cautiously. Another issue is that we need to prevent the sugar from crystallizing during the cooking procedure. If this happens, you will end up with a big lump of grainy burnt sugar. To avoid this, do not stir while the sugar is cooking and don’t shake the pot. Also, make sure there are no sugar crystals on the walls of the pot. You can use a pastry brush and some water to wash sugar off the sides of the pot if needed. If you have a candy thermometer it would be helpful, but not a requirement if you have a stainless steel pot. The reason for this is that a stainless steel pot will allow you to see the colour change of the sugar, whereas a dark pot won’t.

Dark Caramel Syrup

Large Stainless Steel Pot
2 Cups White Sugar
2 Cups Water
1/4 cup Corn Syrup
1/4 cup Maltose (Optional)
1/4 cup light caramel (Optional)

1. In a pot, combine 2 cups sugar, 1 cup of water, and 1/4 cup Corn Syrup. Reserve the other cup of water for later. Turn your stove to “medium-high”

2. Bring the mixture to boil and place a lid on the pot for two minutes. This will allow the steam created during boiling to wash the sides of the pot.

3. Remove the lid and continue cooking until the sugar turns dark amber/red. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. When the sugar goes from a golden colour to dark amber/red, it will happen very quickly, so don’t leave the pot unattended.

4. If you notice that areas of sugar are turning darker quicker than others, this means your heat is uneven underneath the pot. You can rotate the pot to balance this out, or very gently swirl the sugar.

5. As the temperature approaches 195°C (about 400°F) have the lid, two oven mitts and the reserved cup of water ready.

6. Once the sugar has reached the temperature, or proper colour, remove the pot from the heat and add the cup of water quickly and place the lid over the pot. CAUTION! Adding water to hot sugar results in a lot of sputtering and steaming. The steam and flying blobs of hot sugar can burn, so use your oven mitts and stay back once you add the water.

7. Once the volcanic reaction has subsided, you can start stirring the mixture. This will help dissolve the clumps of undissolved caramel. The temperature of this liquid is still very hot!

8. Upon cooling to about 65°C you can add 1/4 cup of Maltose Sugar (Maltodextrin) and stir until dissolved. This will help give the syrup a thicker consistency the results in a silky texture when added to drink. You can get maltodextrin at any homebrew or wine making shop.

9. The light caramel syrup can be added to give your dark caramel a sweeter taste. If the caramel has been overcooked, this will help balance out the flavour. If you find the dark caramel syrup to have an adequate level of sweetness you can skip it. Light caramel syrup is made the same way as the dark version but you only cook it until it’s a medium amber colour.

10. Store caramel syrup in a glass bottle

I have used this syrup in a number of unique creations. It provides a great depth of flavour and will impress your guests and customers. In the future, I will be adding cocktails that use this as a key ingredient.

Concerns About Whether Caramel is Healthy?

The key concern about caramel colouring is from commercial versions of caramel that are produced using ammonium sulphate, which can produce 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI). This is not applicable to this syrup recipe because that ingredient (ammonium sulphate) is not used for this caramel, which is called Class I or E150 caramel. The commercial version is called Class IV or E150d.

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